Update: Gov. Justice announces roads plan, names interim transportation secretary

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ, AP) Update: 3/13/2019


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a plan Wednesday to "significantly accelerate" secondary road projects. He also named an interim transportation secretary.

Roads slipping off hillsides, potholes as large as tires, and rough terrain are all things you might encounter while driving on West Virginia’s secondary roads.

"I promise you I'm going to fix the damn roads, and that's all there is to it," Justice said at the press conference at the Capitol Wednesday.

Just how bad are many of West Virginia’s rural roads? WSAZ recently took a ride with Logan County residents to get a firsthand look.

Both repairs and maintenance are included in the plan. In a statement released last Friday, Gov. Justice said that secondary roads are the state Department of Transportation's number one priority.

Officials could not give an estimated dollar amount for how much the repairs and maintenance will cost, but Justice gave a very rough estimate.

"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars," the governor said.

Justice said there are several different "buckets" they can take money from.

He says the state will need to staff hundreds of people and buy equipment to get the jobs done.

A reporter asked if taxes would be raised to pay for this project and the governor replied, "Not on my watch."

The governor also named Byrd White, a CPA, as the acting secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

"He knows numbers and knows business," said Justice. "He knows how to manage from the standpoint of being a COO or a CEO. He surely knows people and has the ability to know when he's getting the wool pulled over his eyes."

A few days earlier, the governor fired Tom Smith from the position that oversees the state's transportation and highways.

Justice said Wednesday the state needs to re-focus the highway department.

"I want to first say, Tom Smith's a good man," said Justice. "Good man -- did a good job -- a guy I really, really respect and think the world of."

When asked if this project was the wedge that led to the governor parting ways with Smith, Justice said the two have different philosophies.

"Tom has been in the federal government for a long time and he's attuned to doing big projects," said Justice. "We do have a different philosophy and we just can't keep spinning the wheels. We got to go another way."

In a press release ahead of the announcement, Justice stated, "There is no doubt the Department of Transportation is doing great work on our Roads to Prosperity projects, but our secondary roads aren't being addressed with the urgency needed. This is the issue that we will address with this plan, and secondary roads will be the #1 priority of the department. These roads have been neglected for nearly two decades, and that's not going to continue on my watch. The people of West Virginia deserve well-maintained roads."

Update: 3/12/2019 5:20 P.M.

Governor Jim Justice is to hold a news conference Wednesday, in which he says he will announce plans to address concerns about repair of secondary roads.

Local members of the legislature say bills were approved during the recently-concluded session, aimed at addressing that need.

There's a lot of heavy trucks that can't go on the interstate and they have to travel these secondary roads and they're creating a lot of problems," said Sen. Mike Azinger.. "There was a bill that I hope gets signed by the governor that would address that also.

Azinger also cited "Randy's Law", a bill proposed by Sen. Randy Smith of Tucker County, which earmarked $80 million for non-federal secondary roads.

Voters and some lawmakers have said for several years fixing highways and secondary roads should be a state priority.


West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has fired state transportation secretary and highways commissioner Tom Smith.

Justice announced Smith's firing in a brief statement Sunday.

The governor says he wants "a new direction" for the department, including "a return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges."

Voters in 2017 passed a referendum for the state to sell $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state road repairs and construction. In his State of the State address in January, Justice proposed steering road bond money meant for major projects toward repairing secondary roads.

On Friday Justice said he would announce his plans Wednesday to accelerate secondary road repairs and maintenance. The governor said "our secondary roads aren't being addressed with the urgency needed."

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